In week three, the Minnesota Vikings defeated the San Francisco 49ers on the strength of a last-second bullet from Brett Favre to little-used wide-receiver, Greg Lewis. Three weeks later, the Vikings benefited from a last-second failure--that of Baltimore placekicker Steven Hauschka--to escape the Metrodome with a two-point victory over the relentless Ravens.
Yesterday, it was the Vikings' turn to feel the sting of losing a game that they should have won, with penalties, unexpected failures, turnovers, and some odd, last-minute playcalling conspiring to derail what was otherwise a superior performance by Minnesota.
With 11 penalties for 78 yards, the correctable mistakes certainly left limited room for errors in other quarters on Sunday. That margin shrank considerably when one of those penalties--on tight end, Jeff Dugan--was logged on a play that otherwise would have resulted in a touchdown for the Vikings.
While the penalties clearly hurt the Vikings, other on-field miscues even more greatly compromised the Vikings' prospects of beating the Steelers. Most notable among these mistakes were a fumble by Favre inside the Steelers' 10-yard-line with the Vikings trailing by three late in the game and a catch-turned-interception off of the hands of the usually sure-handed Chester Taylor. Taylor's unfortunate miscue turned a drive that appeared destined to at least tie the score into a defensive touchdown for Pittsburgh--their second such score in the span of six minutes in the fourth quarter.
Adding to the Vikings' problems were Adrian Peterson's inability to punch the ball over the goal line from the Steelers' one-yard-line in the third quarter--a disappointing trend for the Vikings--and some curious game management on the team's final drive of the game.
The Vikings opened their final drive with a quick hit to Sidney Rice for eleven yards. That catch came with 48 seconds remaining on the clock. With two timeouts to burn and needing two scores to tie, however, the Vikings elected not to take a timeout and, instead, to run the next play. That play, an incomplete pass to Percy Harvin, ran the clock down to 26 seconds. Following a sixteen-yard pass to Rice and a seventeen-yard screen-play to Peterson, five seconds remained on the game clock. Then, and only then, did Vikings' head coach Brad Childress come screaming down the sidelines to demand a time-out. Why not earlier, when the game was still at least arguably in reach? The answer to that question is anyone's guess. But if one is to be adamant about a timeout with five seconds remaining in the game, one surely ought to be adamant about a timeout with forty-six seconds left in the game, particularly when one has two timeouts to give.
This was the Vikings' first meaningful opponent of the season and the team responded accordingly. There were moments of dullness--the entire first quarter, moments of intelligent play--portions of the remaining three quarters, and moments of futility and self-destruction--particularly the latter half of the fourth quarter. In short, the Vikings looked and played like they were in their first meaningful game. In the long run, their uneven response could pay dividends. In the short term, it simply feels like a missed opportunity to solidify a home playoff spot.
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